Charlotte Kemp Muhl has something of a charmed life. The pouty-lipped model’s Maybelline contract and her duties to The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, the band she fronts with boyfriend Sean Lennon, mean a constant string of international gigs and high-profile photo shoots. But she’s finding inspiration in her more humble beginnings for her latest musical interlude. While growing up in Georgia, she wrote a handful of songs for her longtime best friend and classically trained choral singer Eden Rice, which the duo has unearthed to form Kemp & Eden. Their debut album, Black Hole Lace, has them falling somewhere between Kate Bush and Simon and Garfunkel and utilizing philosophical lyrics (“Athena sprang from Zeus’ head / Lobotomy or cesarean?”) and ethereal harmonies all culled from the tracks they penned in their early teens. “We’ve been writing new songs recently, but funny enough, they haven’t changed that much,” says Muhl. “Frankly, I was a lot more mature when I was 14 than I am now—I’m totally in my fart jokes phase.” Here, the duo talks to Style.com about homespun face masks, hoarding Gunne Sax dresses, and why sometimes music trumps modeling.
You’ve known each other since you were children—why come together now on a music project?
Charlotte Kemp Muhl: We had given up on our childhood ambitions of writing music and being in a band—it seemed like a pipe dream—until I met Sean. He heard us playing live on a guitar at The Dakota, at his mom’s house, and said, “I really want to produce it!” So we put out this acoustic EP.
Is the writing process a collaborative one?
CKM: I actually write all the songs technically, but Eden has major veto power, and I write what I think she would like because she’s the lead vocalist. She’s a much better singer than I am—she was in a choir her whole childhood. I’m more of the songwriter, and I sing harmonies. With The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, it’s a guy and a girl, 50-50, and it’s definitely more of a struggle and more of a fight [writing songs]. It’s interesting because that represents exactly a world between a male and a female brain, and I do a lot of androgynous, experimental stuff with that. With Eden, it’s really feminine; it’s very soft and romantic, and more about the ethereal.
Having busy lives, how do you find the time to work on Kemp & Eden?
Eden Rice: We live with each other!
CKM: We live in Sean’s house so we see each other almost every day. [But] it’s hard, we really have trouble finding time to work on any of our projects. Luckily, we’re able to work pretty fast once we decide to; we did that whole EP in a week. We’re ready to finish our next record, which is pretty much already recorded. We also got our own guitarist—we used to rely on Sean a little too much, he was our guitarist and producer and relying on his schedule was really difficult. We’ve been doing stuff ourselves, which has liberated us.
With her oversize white glasses and impressive head of thick blond hair, MNDR’s Amanda Warner hardly needs catchy electro-pop songs to get attention—an area the New York-by-way-of-Oakland singer-songwriter hasn’t needed much help in over the past few years anyway. Since releasing the band’s first single in 2009 (although Warner is the group’s face and sole live performer, she works with Peter Wade on all the songs), MNDR has teamed up with everyone from Mark Ronson and Q-Tip to Lacoste. This month marks the release of her long-awaited debut album, Feed Me Diamonds, and between the dance floor-ready beats and lyrics inspired by the likes of Marina Abramovic and Patty Hearst, it’s destined to be more than just a party soundtrack. Warner spoke with Style.com about why she still believes in the power of pop music—not to mention bleached eyebrows and vintage Gaultier.
You’ve been releasing singles since 2009, but this will be your first full-length album. Why the wait?
Basically it took a while to find the right partner, a label partner who believed in my MNDR vision. I have a really interactive light show, the gear is all custom and lights up…the MNDR sound and visuals are very much their own thing—and it isn’t a cookie-cutter thing. Just like anything else, it can be more difficult to find the right people who want to elevate that process.
In trying to avoid cookie-cutter mundanity, have you also tried to deliberately step up your onstage style?
I’ve always had very individualistic, good personal style, but I never really in my head fantasized about what I would look like as a front person. I think it took me a while; I would say just until very recently, the past six months. I’m finding what I want to look like and where I want to jump off of from that, and that’s from working with a few really talented stylists. But with music and sounds and the way I like to construct songs, it’s the same with how I want the project to look; I want it to look like its own thing, and that’s always a bit more difficult.
What led to this newfound sartorial revelation?
I’m a consummate tomboy—I didn’t start wearing makeup until a year or two year ago! I would just wear shredded T-shirts and jeans and shoes, and you see that in the early footage. I certainly didn’t do anything with my hair—that’s still a huge struggle. I was able to start being inspired by vintage Gaultier, watching Neneh Cherry videos, and seeing all this fashion that was so artistic and creative—and that was less about body type; it’s just awesomeness happening. So then I just decided to pay attention to [fashion] and study it, and now it’s a creative outlet for me.
In a genre like pop, is there still a place for women to be subversive without becoming a novelty?
Oh my God, this is the most awesome question ever—yes! I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Britney Spears and these artists. They’re so much more [like] corporations, and criticizing them is like criticizing cupcakes. Freaking out about Paris Hilton deejaying is like getting mad about spaghetti—they’re just walking brands, and that’s totally their deal and go get it. But what I think is missing in pop music is questioning authority, questioning stereotypical things in society, and saying, “I’m not going to take it.” Twisted Sister; awesome example. The Clash, R.E.M., even Boy George had songs that were critical. People don’t want everything to feel like Purell; they want something different, they want to pissed about things, and they want to [have] a fantasy about it. That’s what I hope I can do with MNDR.
Beauty And The Beat: Z Berg Goes From The Like To Jjamz—And Finds The Perfect Red Lipstick In The Process
Just to be clear, this is not Z Berg’s first rodeo; she toured the world heavily with her all-girl group, The Like, in the early aughts. But when it came time to head out with Jjamz, the newly formed, indie-pop five-piece she fronts with band mates that hail from established acts like Maroon 5, Phantom Planet, and Rilo Kiley, Berg decided to wipe the slate clean—stylistically, at least. The Angeleno has ditched the sixties baby-doll dresses and Twiggy-esque bob you may remember as her onetime signatures and has gone back into the recesses of her closet to unearth things she hasn’t worn for ages—”and that closet has recesses,” she assures us. Part of that self-liberation came from no longer being in an all-girl group where onstage outfits were coordinated. “It’s nice to dress up and be like, ‘Oh wow, I’m the girly girl,” the singer explains in a whiskey-soaked voice. While crossing the country promoting Jjamz’s debut album, Suicide Pact, Berg called in from “somewhere in Texas” to talk with Style.com about finding the perfect red lipstick, avoiding pants at all costs, and a secret stash of “fancy lingerie” that gets her through those long, long weeks on the road.
This is the band’s first official tour—how has it been so far?
We’re driving from Austin to Billings, Montana. It’s a 24-hour drive—you’re lucky you caught me at the beginning, while I’m still sane! So far it has been really, really fun. Being on tour with my best friends, you can’t fuck with that. Strangely, it hasn’t been that different [from touring with The Like], only it takes a lot less time to get ready—I stopped wearing really heavy eye makeup, so it takes off 20 minutes of getting-ready time.
Why did you ditch the smoky eye?
I have such a habit of changing my look constantly, and people very rarely recognize me. I’m talking personal friends—I get double takes because I look so different. The last year of The Like, I was trying so hard to stick to one specific look. So then when we decided to take a break, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not putting this eye makeup on.’ I’ve been wearing eye makeup practically every day since I was 11!
So, what’s your new look going to be?
I’ve been very serious with a red lip every day, and maybe a little bit of mascara. If you’re blond, you can’t wear much eye makeup if you wear red lipstick. I’ve chosen darkness. I’ve gone over to the lipstick side.
Beauty And The Beat: Dragonette’s Martina Sorbara Talks Two-Toned Lips, Boycotting The Hair Salon, And Music That’s “A Little Bit More Beer And Sunshine”
For Dragonette’s frontwoman, Martina Sorbara, one of the hardest parts about being in a band isn’t the constant touring—it’s what happens when you stop. “You’re like, What is this place called ‘home’? Why is all this stuff everywhere? Every time I come home from tour I end up throwing out four bags of clothing,” she says with a smile stretched across her face. She pauses to laugh, and then adds, “I’m like, ‘Holy shit I have 80 pairs of shoes—get rid of them!” It’s no surprise that she’s amassed so much over the years: the Toronto-born, London-based electro-pop band has been a designer favorite since forming in 2005 (Jean Paul Gaultier, Diane von Furstenberg, and Fendi have all worked with Dragonette on various projects). While the band gears up for the September release of their third album, Bodyparts, with plenty of tour dates and a performance on Good Morning America airing this summer, Sorbara met with Style.com to talk about mastering a two-tone lip and getting messy rock star hair, no salon professional needed.
So, I see you’ve shaved the sides of your head! When did that happen?
The other day we had a show in Mexico City and I was really feeling like all my clothes were so drab and I had no idea what to wear, so instead of dressing up I just shaved these off. I was having a bit of mom hair issues because it was very bulky but curling under—like some First lady situation. So I when I got rid of [the sides] it fixed a lot of things.
You’ve had many different hair styles over the years, from bowl cuts to pompadours. Do you get bored quickly?
The thing is a have really good scissors and they’re in my bathroom, so sometimes I give myself four-day-long haircuts. I’m very detached from my hair; it’s not a special part of my body and I really don’t mind just taking scissors to it and fucking it up. So I’ll try something and I know it grows really fast and it’s really liberating to think, I don’t need to pay somebody $200 to decide what my hair looks like. Because every time I get my hair cut by somebody, I want to punch them in the face. It’s like, “You weren’t even listening to what I was saying, and I just paid you a whole bunch of money to do this mom hair!”
I think most women have had that moment in a salon where they’re on the verge of tears, so you’re not alone. With wavy hair, how do you fight frizz?
I used to do “Kinder surprise hair,” which is when you go to bed with your hair wet and you wake up with whatever the pillow gave you. It’s a good method. But now I just spray [Toni & Guy] Label M Sea Salt Spray when it’s damp and it makes your hair do what you want—if you want a beach look, or if you want to look like you don’t care.
It’s been two years since indie dream pop trio Au Revoir Simone went on a hiatus, but singer and keyboardist Erika Forster has found a way to keep busy with a newly launched solo project. “I wanted to still do music and I felt like, ‘Well, I have everything set up for me to do this, so I need to just see what happens.’ I just started experimenting,” she says of her self-titled debut EP, out this week. As with Miuccia Prada-favorite Au Revoir Simone (who are now back together and presently working on their fourth album), the tracks on Erika Spring showcase Forster’s dulcet voice and knack for ethereal, just-the-right-side-of-sweet melodies. Here, Style.com caught up with the Brooklyn-based musician to find out her eco-friendly beauty favorites, why silk is a touring musician’s best friend, and why blondes really do have more fun.
What’s the biggest difference between working solo versus with a group?
It’s really nice in the band [because] I always have two people that I trust to bounce ideas off of. Sometimes I feel a little, like, I don’t know the answer to the question and I’m going to have to figure it out. But I also have to say it’s allowed me to meet other amazing creative people—like Jorge [Elbrecht], who produced [my album]. Just having those experiences were really positive.
Besides going solo, you’ve also gone from brunette to blonde—another big change, I imagine.
I had been wanting to do it for a long time. I’ve had every kind of blonde since then; I started slowly and then I went all the way to platinum, which was fun, but it was really hard to keep it up. Now I’ve settled down. I’ve found my blonde! The girl who does it is amazing. I go to Aura Friedman at Serge Normant at John Frieda in [New York's] Meatpacking District. She has great ideas; when I first started getting my hair done by her, we were putting a lot of really pale pastel pinks in. She also has a really great color Tumblr [http://auracolorist.tumblr.com/] that’s just so beautiful. She’s an artist.
Did going blonde have any effect on your personality?
I feel like at the time that I did it, I really needed to lighten up in a very spiritual and all-encompassing way. I didn’t think about it that way then, but looking back, I wanted to just have this physical change. I think stereotypes about blondes are annoying but some of them are really true—in many ways I feel like my personality fits being blonde.